Lingering listing photos create conundrum for real estate agents

Realtors respond after Chicago homeowner demands listing photos be removed from internet, citing privacy

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In an op-ed in The Chicago Tribune last week, a homeowner raised issues over privacy after an agent declined to help remove listing photos of her new home, a conundrum that’s left Realtors divided on how to respond to such a request.

In the column, “Deborah, of Chicago” claimed she was stymied by the seller’s agent and other agents uninvolved with the sale, each asserting that the listing photos of the exterior and interiors of the home serve as comparables for future clients. The homeowner, however, insists that the photos, no longer necessary to market the home, are merely an invasion of her family’s privacy.

“There needs to be a provision for homebuyers to opt out of keeping the photos online indefinitely,” she told writer Cathy Cunningham in a column published Aug. 16. “A program like the “Do Not Call” list to get listings removed upon request is tantamount to personal security, especially online.”

Ask most real estate listing agents, however, and they’ll tell you how crucial photos are for marketing a home — while others, no doubt, will question claims that the images raise safety concerns. After all, many interior listing photos contain empty or staged rooms, not the actual layout, furniture and possessions of the buyer. But if one buyer is concerned, there are likely others.

It may simply be an unsettled feeling that others can know the layout of your home, which is supposed to be a private space.

“It should be illegal for them to be removed, how else can we do an accurate comparative market analysis?” Tim Harstead, a Realtor with Kale Realty Chicago wrote on the Inman Coast to Coast page. “How will appraisers do accurate work?”

John Queenan, a Realtor at William Pitt Sotheby’s International Realty agreed that the listing photos should stay after a sale, but brought up another interesting dilemma: should agents remove photos if the listing expires or is cancelled?

“Agents spend a lot of money on photography, if they are not re-listing it then why should they be forced to leave them for the next agent to use without compensation?” Queenan posed. “And yes, it is an issue in my market, we see that far too often.”

And although another reader pointed out that each multiple listing service (MLS) often has rules against re-using another listing agent’s photos, Queenan said, “good luck enforcing it.”

Steve Wynands, the co-founder of Peer Reputation said he’s there to promote his client’s best interest before his own, so if a request comes, he’ll accommodate it.

“We should be required to remove photos if the seller (our client, not the next seller) asks,” posted Wynands. “There have been cases where I provide more pics than available to the appraisers who contact me.”

Scott Brown, a Realtor with eXp Realty, agreed, saying it should be up to the client.

“It probably should be up to the new owners for the inside of their home,” Brown posted.

Secondary photos of properties can be suppressed from an MLS’s data feed to third parties, if a request is made by the listing agent or managing broker, according to Realtor Magazine, a publication from the National Association of Realtors. The primary listing photo – often an exterior shot of the home, which isn’t very revealing – will likely remain.

Homeowners can request that third-party sites remove property photos post closing, but also can ask their agent to intervene in having the photos suppressed from the MLS and its feeds, Lesley Muchow, NAR’s deputy general counsel, told Realtor Magazine.

Teresa Boardman, a broker and the owner of Boardman Realty, said listing photos stay in the MLS for years after the sale and she cannot remove the photos from her listings after they are sold, as they become the property of the MLS.

“I guess if a home buyer called me and was all upset I would call our MLS and I am sure I could convince them to remove the photos,” Boardman told Inman by email. “If I had photos from a listing on my web site and a home owner asked to have them removed I would definitely remove them.”

Email Patrick Kearns